Since the first World Fair took place over 150 years ago, the term “Expo” has come to represent an international-calibre public event that encompasses a universal or specialized theme. A phenomenon in the making Calgary’s own Comic & Entertainment Expo has spent the past decade striving to achieve a benchmark level of success in the art and entertainment showcase gambit. And while the Montreal’s Expo ’67 and its “Man the Explorer” pavilion dreamed of a future unfettered by terrestrial concerns, the gravity of sustaining the Calgary Comic & Entertainment’s Expo-nential growth has weighed heavily on event organizers.
Calgary Expo presenter and spokesperson Emily Expo (a.k.a. Lindsay Thomas) is quick to point out the constant adjustments that the sanctioning bodies are making to ensure a smooth and enjoyable festival experience for all.
“We’re going into our ninth year,” says Thomas. “What started out as a 3,000-attendee event has grown to the point where we had about 60,000 guests pass through our doors last year. Around here, we say that our chief organizer Kandrix (Foong) grew it on steroids, but the truth is that Calgary was hungry for an event of this nature. We have a major art community here and there’s so much creativity to be found around this city. It often gets overlooked because we’re so focused on business 11 months a year that we forget there’s such a vibrant, rich, and close-knit community thriving right here. When the Expo came along, it made things more accessible and put fan culture within reach of such wide variety of people. We’re very excited about the sharing of ideas and generating so much buzz.”
The explosive popularity of the annual extravaganza of celebrity and artist appearances has been a blessing and a curse for coordinators who have struggled to keep pace with their own success. In appealing to such a broad spectrum of comic, art, film and television enthusiasts, the Expo has endured its fair share of growing pains. Today, close collaboration with the Stampede Board and Fire Department officials has paid off as new “wristband redemption” and “photo-op pre-sale” processes will streamline the formidable task of efficiently admitting so many eager convention attendees.
“It’s very common for large shows to go through a period of adjustment. It’s just something you have to go through and learn from,” Thomas acknowledges. “The biggest thing we’re doing this year to accommodate demand is that we’re moving admissions to the Stampede Grandstand. That means that people will be entering the Expo from Erlton Station end, or south side, of Stampede Park. We will provide a shuttle for those with disabilities, or who prefer not to walk, but it is a great opportunity to spread out and enjoy our expanded footprint. In addition to providing more room for seated shows, we’ll be expanding our outdoor programming and utilizing the Big Four Building more effectively. To create even more space, we are constructing our own pavilion building for the weekend of the show.”
Satisfying the desires of comic hunters and cosplay competitors isn’t the only concern for facilitators as the Expo’s roster of stars and sketchers seems to swell on a daily basis. Frequent dispatches via the event’s official website continually list new guests to be slated into an already packed four-day schedule. While a surprising array of names and faces has become attached to what was once a predominantly a gathering of comic book collectors and S/F devotees, Expo organizers purport to embrace all that falls under the umbrella of pop-culture. An art-lover’s paradise, the sheer volume of styles and mediums being exhibited by pen-and-ink prodigies and celluloid superheroes on hand make the artist’s alley and vendor’s marketplace a bastion of unfathomable (and at times unaffordable) delights. A word of caution, long line-ups and claustrophobic close-ups are of little appeal to little people, so think twice before bringing minors who do not exceed adult armpit-height.
True to its science fiction roots, the 2014 edition of the Calgary Arts & Entertainment Expo will feature a tour de force in the form of Aliens EXPOsed, an additional evening special event occurring on the Saturday evening on April 26. Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen and the core cast of the iconic 1986 extraterrestrial thriller, Aliens, will take the stage for an unprecedented gathering before a live (mucus-encased) audience in the Stampede Corral. Even James Cameron, Ridley Scott, and H.R. Giger himself would be clamouring for a ticket to this biomechanical trip down memory lane.
“I am such a massive Sigourney Weaver fan,” Thomas divulges. “I can’t wait to tell her what an inspiration she’s been on screen and in her personal life.”
Constantly charged with topping their previous efforts, the creative minds behind the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo have a reputation for going big and doing it right. With once-in-a-lifetime events like 2012’s TNG EXPOsed reunion of Star Trek alumni to their credit, they knew they had set the bar high for this year’s special events. Meeting this tall order, an Immortal Watcher and a Shire-load of Hobbits will figure large as this year’s Expo will feature two separately-ticketed special events in addition to the Aliens EXPOsed event. On April 25, Canadian bluesman and Highlander cast-member Jim Byrnes will be performing a live music concert in the Boyce Theatre. Later that evening over in the Stampede Corral cast members from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (including Sean Astin, Manu Bennett, Billy Boyd, Mark Ferguson, Jed Brophy, Craig Parker, Dean O’Gorman and Mark Hadlow) will come together for Middle-earth EXPOsed and regale Tolkien fans with stories, song, dance, and more.
“Personally, I’m really excited about our special musical event featuring the lovely and talented Jim Byrnes,” Emily Expo says. “He’s such an extraordinary musician, I hope a lot of people will come to see him with his Highlander co-star, Adrian Paul, on the show floor and check out Jim Byrnes EXPOsed: An Acoustic Concert.
“We’re also proud to present Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad and the great philanthropist and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Danny Glover. I know a lot of people are looking forward to Vivica A. Fox and Michael Madsen for the Kill Bill factor and Calgary fans really love Bruce Campbell. In terms of the artists we bring in, the talent we’ve amassed for this year’s line-up is fantastic! Whether you collect comic book legend J. Scott Campbell’s work on The Amazing Spiderman or are inspired by up-and-coming fantasy artists like Edmonton’s Nat Jones, I encourage people to explore the grounds, make new friends and discover new interests.”
While it’s obvious that the community-at-large benefits from this once-a-year opportunity to cultivate and explore their interests, user expectations remain sky-high for each year’s event. Contending with starry eyes and pre-show butterflies, Thomas promises that the jaw-dropping moments we’ve come to expect from the Calgary Arts & Entertainment Expo will be delivered in full come this April.
“I hope Calgary Expo stands out from other conventions for the creativity and diversity of our guest list,” she continues. “Aliens fans, this is your year.
“And don’t forget about our Parade of Wonders (a.k.a. POW!), which will parade thousands of fans together through the streets of Calgary. No other con in Canada does this and we think that it’s a super-cool way to kick off our Expo. We’ll have two of the stars of Sons of Anarchy riding their motorcycles in the parade so it’s just a huge celebration of all the things fans love about the these incredible performers and franchises.
“We put a lot of time and effort into considering things from different angles and balancing the variety of entertainment we have to offer. We want to let people know that, rain or shine, the 2014 Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo has expanded to cover the whole Stampede grounds. We’re growing with our audience and hope to do so every year going into the future.”
This year’s Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo runs April 24-27 at Stampede Park.
By Christine Leonard